The Winding Path of Cupid (The Clippings)

A True Tale of Modern Romance

 

Philadelphia Inquirer

February 9, 2014  

By Art Carey

 

                  For weeks she had been gathering the clippings, interesting articles from the op-ed page, magazine pieces she thought he might like. Although he was easy to talk to, this time she knew conversation would be difficult, and one thing she wanted to avoid above all was an embarrassing, tense silence.

 

                She knew he would like the way she looked. She had not seen him in three months, since their sudden breakup (“Things are moving too fast,” he had complained. “I need more time. I’m afraid this may be a rebound romance”), and during that time, she had been running and lifting weights religiously. At 120 pounds, she was a striking, lissome woman, and her honey-blond hair was more golden than ever. She had come home from work early, and now, after a long bath and a glass of wine, she was about as relaxed as she’d ever be, considering the circumstances.

 

                During those three months, she had missed him so much that sometimes she would call him at work just to hear his voice when he picked up the phone, to assure herself he was still alive, that he was no cinematic mirage, that their torrid romance had not been a dream, that it had really happened. Then she would hang up, embarrassed, as he kept stammering, “Hello. Is anyone there?”  She had heard he was dating one of his colleagues, a woman who had won a Pulitzer Prize, but she was confident no professional trophy would stand in the way of their eventually reuniting, that ultimately he would come to his senses and realize they were meant for each other, that their bond was chemically fused, infrangible, sacred, predestined. In fact, she had been bold enough to declare, during that September walk when he asked to be released, “Do what you have to do. I know you’ll come back.” And she had believed it, too, despite the tears, until the lonely days began stretching into weeks and months.

 

                He often praised her for her intelligence du coeur – intelligence of the heart, her natural generosity, her ability to take the measure of people with uncanny accuracy, to see through phonies and opportunists, to sense the emotions of others and to empathize deeply with those hurting or in need. How could he pass up a woman like that? she wondered. And so, in her soul, she knew without a doubt that he would realize his error, and that they would come together again and that some day they would cement their love with children and that they would grow old together and face life’s inevitable challenges and adversities with strength and grace, and without regret or remorse.

 

                By 6:45, she was dressed and ready to walk to the restaurant. She was wearing the simple black dress she had worn nearly a year ago, on the night they’d met at a piano bar around the corner. He had always admired that dress because its simplicity and unpretentiousness, he said, were so characteristic of her. Anyway, she didn’t have that many dresses. He’d been amazed, she remembered, when he opened her closet and saw how empty it was, and he was impressed when he learned that she spent what little extra money she had not on clothes but on improving herself through piano lessons and evening courses at the university. She was wearing the scrimshaw earrings he had given her the summer before, after that magical week in Nantucket, and she had perfumed herself with Chanel No. 5, the fragrance he said he loved to breathe when he was nuzzling her neck.

 

                The streets were slick, and the tires of passing taxis hissed as she left her apartment building. The restaurant where they were to meet was only a few blocks away, but it seemed like miles because the evening was so damp and chilly. How different this night was from the night exactly 12 months before when they’d first met, on a blind date, that night when they were both so innocent, when so much seemed possible, when the future seemed to promise an eternity of passion and pleasure.

 

                At the restaurant, a quaint, tiny place with a small but devoted clientele, she hung up her coat and furled her umbrella before taking a seat at “their” table – the table by the window on 18h Street, where they’d spent so many evenings talking and laughing and sipping espresso and grappling with cosmic issues until finally the exasperated waiters shooed them away. He was not there, of course, but that was no surprise. Part of his charm was his simmering rebelliousness, his insouciant defiance of convention, including time. “I abide by Irish time,” he would sometimes say, by way of excuse.

 

                She reached into her pocketbook and began sorting out the clippings. The magazine article about preppies being the last upper class would surely amuse him. And then she’d switch to the column about the sad plight of the single woman. They had often talked about that topic, and he had frequently praised her for her unusual apercus – that was the word he always used, a badge of his shy intellectuality.

 

                Finally, there was an essay about Princeton by Joyce Carol Oates. He would be delighted with this, she knew, because he was such an unrepentant Princeton chauvinist, and she knew he would love hearing that Oates had described his alma mater as “the last great undergraduate college in America.”

 

                By now, he was 15 minutes late for what was supposed to be a 7 o’clock rendezvous. She knew he would show up, but the lovely face whose reflection she glimpsed in the window -- her face – bore an unmistakably anxious look. Moments later, as she was admiring her features, still so ripe and unlined for a woman in her early 30s, she heard the restaurant door open. She was facing away, but she knew immediately it was he. The door had been thrown open with such reckless vigor, and there was so much bustle afterward, she knew it could be no one else.

 

                She wanted to turn around. She wanted so much to see him. But she also wanted to prolong the delicious anticipation. Besides, she knew that the ceiling light directly overhead was bathing her hair in gold, and he always loved her golden hair.

 

                Then he was in front of her – his curly blond hair wet and dark, his face glistening with rainwater, his baggy, uncreased khaki pants now two-tone, his unkempt blue blazer soaking. As usual, he had not been carrying an umbrella, and as usual, he had not been wearing an overcoat, and as usual he looked like a farmer, hastily dressed for Sunday church.

 

                But, as usual, his eyes were entrancing, now dancing and mischievous, now solicitous and vulnerable, now sensitive and profound.

 

                “Hi, babe,” he said. “Sorry I’m late. And so wet. Just my luck to get caught in a downpour.”

 

                He reached into the back pocket of his soggy khaki pants to remove his wallet, and when he pulled it out and placed it on the table, she saw that it was entombed in what looked like a big wad of papier-mache. Slowly, he began dissecting the glob, peeling off layer after layer.

 

                “Damn, I guess I ruined my research,” he said, with that same old boyish grin, so maddening and yet so irresistible. “It may not look like it, but these are actually newspaper clippings, some articles I brought in case we ran out of things to say.”


                She smiled at him, and he smiled at her, and in that instant she knew she’d won him back, and that their conversation would last forever.

 

 

Art Carey contributes the “Well Being” column to the Philadelphia Inquirer.